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Millions of Scots will head to the polls on Sept. 18, 2014, to vote in an independence referendum that would, if the “Yes” votes prevail, mean the partial dissolution of the 307-year-old United Kingdom. Right now, polls gauging sentiment for and against independence in the great northern land suggest that the vote is too close to call. But whatever the outcome, it’s all but certain that Scotland’s relationship with England, Wales and Northern Ireland will never be the same.
Here, on the eve of the historic vote, LIFE.com shares a series of photos from the middle part of the last century: pictures that capture some elemental characteristics of the country and its people (as well as some enduring stereotypes), while reminding all of us just how unique and, referendum or no, how independent a people the Scots truly are.